ABB To Acquire ASTI Mobile Robotics Group

ABB was an early leader in fixed industrial robots and is still one of the industry leaders. The area of mobile robots has been growing with uses expanding as quickly as engineer’s imaginations. This news is the acquisition of ASTI Mobile Robotics Group by ABB adding a jump start into this market segment. Here are the key bullet points:

  • ASTI is global leader in high growth Autonomous Mobile Robot (AMR) market with broad portfolio of vehicles and software 
  • Acquisition adds to Robotics and Machine Automation solutions to deliver unique automation portfolio, further expanding into new industry segments
  • AMR business will be headquartered in Burgos, Spain and led by Veronica Pascual Boé, ASTI CEO. New Asia AMR hub, including full value chain and manufacturing, to open at ABB Robotics factory in Shanghai

The market intelligence firm Interact Analysis sent this comment from Ash Sharma, Managing Director:

  • “ABB is the 3rd largest vendor of industrial (fixed) robots in the world but until now (like most other industrial robot vendors) had no play in mobile robotics”
  • “The move to acquire a mobile robot vendor is not surprising as major customers are rapidly adopting mobile robotics to augment their production line automation. Flexible manufacturing necessitates the use of mobile robots for material flow”
  • “This mirrors the move made by Omron which acquired mobile robot vendor Adept back in 2015 and successfully created an integrated offering to vendors of both mobile and fixed robotics”
  • “ASTI has enjoyed >25% growth in recent years and is now ranked as the 4th largest vendor of mobile robots in Europe by revenue”
  • “Mobile robots used in manufacturing environments are forecast to generate more than $13bn in cumulative revenue in the next 4 years”

Following is the news announcement:

ABB announced it will acquire ASTI Mobile Robotics Group (ASTI). This will expand ABB’s robotics and automation offering, making it the only company to offer a complete portfolio for the next generation of flexible automation.

The acquisition, a key part of ABB’s external growth strategy, was signed on July 19 and is expected to close in mid-summer 2021. Both parties agreed not to disclose any details regarding the purchase price.

Founded in 1982, ASTI is headquartered in Burgos, Spain and employs over 300 people in Spain, France and Germany. It is majority owned by Veronica Pascual Boé, who is also CEO. Other shareholders include European Growth Buyout investor Keensight Capital. Today it supports one of Europe’s largest installed fleets of AMRs and has a broad customer base in automotive, logistics, food & beverage and pharmaceuticals in 20 countries. Since 2015, the company has enjoyed close to 30 percent growth on an annual basis and is targeting approximately $50 million in revenue in 2021.

AMRs will support a degree of flexibility, from production, logistics, intralogistics and fulfillment through to retail and healthcare environments. This will enable ABB’s and ASTI’s common vision to help customers replace today’s linear production lines with fully flexible networks, where intelligent AMRs autonomously navigate materials, parts and finished products between smart connected workstations, in factories, logistics centers, laboratories, shops or hospitals.

These will be integrated with ABB’s portfolio of robots, machine automation, modular solutions and software suite including RobotStudio, ABB Robotics’ simulation and programming tool, creating a unique and comprehensive automation portfolio for ABB’s customers.

ASTI’s headquarters in Burgos, Spain will become ABB’s AMR business headquarters, led by Pascual Boé, with core functions, including R&D, engineering, product and project value chain, continuing at ASTI’s facilities. ABB will significantly expand production capacity at the AMR business headquarters to support the planned sales expansion in Europe and the Americas. To facilitate the growth potential for AMRs in China and Asia, ABB will also establish an Asia AMR hub, including full value chain and manufacturing, at its new robotics factory, which will open in Shanghai in 2022. China, the world’s largest robotics market, is projected to account for $1.8 billion of AMR sales annually by 2025.

ABB Robotics’ acquisition comes shortly after the company’s announcements to expand robotics automation for new sectors and first-time users, including the launch of its new GoFa and SWIFTI collaborative robot families and its announcement that it will advance automation in the construction industry.

Neurala Raises $12 Million to Scale Artificial Intelligence for Industrial Manufacturing

Funding isn’t my primary interest, but this one has interest because of all the hype around artificial intelligence (AI). I continue to see articles in major media that imply that AI is a sort of Star Trek technology rather than something we’ve been using for 30 years or so. However, Neurala has been feeding me a lot of news this year about advances in its vision AI software. Now it has more money to further its development.

Neurala, the leader in vision AI software, announced that it has raised $12 million in funding to advance the development of vision AI for manufacturing. The round, led by Zebra Ventures and Pelion Venture Partners, with participation from Draper Associates, Friulia, AddValue, 360 Capital Partners, Idinvest Partners, Cougar Capital, and industrial investors IMA and Antares Vision, brings the total invested in Neurala to $26 million.

The funding will enable Neurala to evolve and accelerate adoption of its vision AI in the industrial and manufacturing sectors on a global scale, as manufacturers increasingly prioritize automation as part of Industry 4.0 initiatives.

Neurala is a pioneer in vision AI for manufacturing. Built on the company’s deep AI expertise, Neurala’s VIA software delivers an integrated solution designed to help manufacturers improve quality inspection on the production line. With VIA, manufacturers are empowered to answer the call for increased productivity, accuracy and speed.

In the last twelve months, the company has increased its capacity to identify and resolve problems in manufacturing facilities through expert system integrator partners and well-entrenched suppliers. In addition to expanding its work with system integrators threefold, Neurala has also worked with an ever-growing number of OEMs, including investors IMA, IHI Logistics & Machinery and FLIR, to deliver easy-to-use AI solutions that will improve the speed and efficiency of inspections at a price point that makes them affordable for a wide range of customers.

The funding comes at a time when manufacturers are increasingly focused on AI and automation as a key tool in their ability to adapt to new realities established by the pandemic. With this funding, Neurala will be able to evolve VIA to make it more efficient for a wider range of applications and use cases.

“This past year we were able to turn a global crisis into an opportunity to both completely transform our business and to catalyze much-needed innovation in the AI space,” said Max Versace, CEO and co-founder of Neurala. “There was always an opportunity for AI and automation to improve manufacturing, but the pandemic really accelerated the industry’s willingness to embrace the technology. Our team has worked relentlessly over the last year to introduce VIA to partners and customers across the globe, and now that the world is ready to embrace it, we are ready to deliver it. The funding will enable us to do that at a much greater scale that meets the demand we’re seeing in the space.”

This funding comes on the heels of the launch of Neurala’s subsidiary, Neurala Europe, based in Trieste, Italy. The new capital represents the next phase of growth for Neurala as it will be used to expand upon its newfound global presence as the company continues to help manufacturers around the world harness the power of vision AI.

“Today’s manufacturers are leveraging AI and automation to address challenges such as production constraints, supply chain disruptions, and imperfect workforce availability,” said Tony Palcheck, managing director of Zebra Ventures. “Zebra Technologies is proud to invest in Neurala as it commercializes VIA software to enable faster, more cost-effective, easy-to-deploy solutions for customers looking to improve their decision making and productivity on the production line.”

“As a long-time investor in Neurala, we have always recognized the power of its technology to enable smarter, autonomous decision-making in real-world scenarios,” said Ben Lambert, General Partner at Pelion Venture Partners. “Now we’re seeing a significant impact as Neurala has focused on applications in industrial and manufacturing. There’s a big opportunity for Neurala to grow that presence, not only in the US, but in Europe, Asia and beyond. We are excited to support the Neurala team in that journey as we know that it has the right team, the cutting-edge technology, and the global reach to capitalize on this significant market opportunity. “

Network Security Vulnerabilities Rising at an Alarming Rate Says Nozomi Report

Chris Grove, security strategist for industrial control systems (ICS) for Nozomi Networks Labs, recently talked with me about the latest research they’ve conducted. The important takeaways concern the rise of ransomware, increased targeting of industrial control systems, and (surprisingly to  me) vulnerability of networked security cameras.

The report finds attacks are driven largely by the emergence of  Ransomware as a Service (RaaS) gangs that are cashing in on critical infrastructure organizations. Analysis of rising ICS vulnerabilities found critical manufacturing vulnerabilities was the most susceptible industry while a deep dive into IoT security cameras highlights how quickly the attack surface is expanding.

“Colonial Pipeline, JBS and the latest Kaseya software supply chain attack are painful lessons that the threat of ransom attacks is real,” said Nozomi Networks Co-founder and CTO Moreno Carullo. “Security professional must be armed with network security and visibility solutions that incorporate real time threat intelligence and make it possible to quickly respond with actionable recommendations and plans. Understanding how these criminal organizations work and anticipating future vulnerabilities is critical as they defend against this unfortunate new normal.”

Nozomi Networks’ latest “OT/IoT Security Report,” gives cybersecurity professionals an overview of the OT and IoT threats analyzed by Nozomi Networks Labs security research team. The report found: 

  • Ransomware attacks rose 116% between January and May of 2021.
  • Average ransom grew 43% to $220,298 – with payments expected to reach $20 billion this year
  • Analysis of DarkSide, REvil and Ryuk highlight the growing dominance of RaaS models
  • REvil set a new record for ransom demands, surpassing $50 million – the infamous RaaS also successfully executed a supply chain attack – tactics typically only seen from sophisticated nation-state actors.
  • ICS-CERT vulnerabilities increased 44% in the first half of 2021 
  • Vulnerabilities in the critical manufacturing sector rose 148%
  • The top 3 industries affected included critical manufacturing, a grouping identified as multiple industries, and the energy sector
  • Software supply chain-related vulnerabilities continue to surface – as do medical device vulnerabilities 
  • With more than a billion CCTV cameras expected to be in production globally this year, insecure IoT security cameras are a growing concern. The report includes an analysis of the Verkada breach and security vulnerabilities in Reolink cameras and ThroughTek software – discovered by Nozomi Networks Labs.

“As industrial organizations embrace digital transformation those with a wait and see mindset are learning the hard way that they weren’t prepared for an attack,” said Nozomi Networks CEO Edgard Capdevielle. “Threats may be on the rise, but technologies and practices to defeat them are available now. We encourage organizations to adopt a post-breach mindset pre-breach and strengthen their security and operational resiliency before it’s too late.”

DH2i Launches DxEnterprise Smart Availability Software for Containers

Containers have become a must have technology for those pursuing some form of Digital Transformation, or whatever you wish to label it. I’ve written little about the subject. Following is a news release concerning a way for cloud-native Microsoft SQL Server.

DH2i, a provider of multi-platform Software Defined Perimeter (SDP) and Smart Availability software, announced June 22 the general availability (GA) of DxEnterprise (DxE) for Containers, enabling cloud-native Microsoft SQL Server container Availability Groups (AG) outside and inside Kubernetes (K8).

Container use is skyrocketing for digital transformation projects—particularly the use of stateful containers for databases such as Microsoft SQL Server. This growing stateful database container use is also generating a hard production deployment requirement for database-level high availability (HA) in Kubernetes.

For medium and large organizations running SQL Server, database-level HA has traditionally been provided by SQL Server Availability Groups (AGs). However, SQL Server AGs have not been supported in Kubernetes until now—hindering organizations’ ability to undergo digital transformations. DxEnterprise (DxE) for Containers is the answer to the problem.

DxEnterprise for Containers accelerates an enterprise’s digital transformation (DX) by speeding the adoption of highly available stateful containers. DxEnterprise (DxE) for Containers provides SQL Server Availability Group (AG) support for SQL Server containers, including for Kubernetes clusters. It enables customers to deploy stateful containers to create new and innovative applications while also improving operations with near-zero RTO to more efficiently deliver better products and services at a lower cost. Additionally, it helps organizations generate new revenue streams by enabling them to build distributed Kubernetes AG clusters across availability zones/regions, resulting in hybrid cloud and multi-cloud environments which can rapidly adapt to changes in market conditions and consumer preferences.

“Kubernetes lacks SQL Server AG support, which is essential for using stateful containers in production,” said Shamus McGillicuddy, Vice President of Research, EMA Network Management Practice. “DxEnterprise for Containers solves this problem. It enables AG support in Kubernetes.”

“DxE for Containers is the perfect complement to Kubernetes’ pod/node-level cluster HA,” said Don Boxley, DH2i CEO and Co-Founder. “DxE for Containers enables Microsoft users to confidently deploy highly available SQL Server containers in production, speeding their organizations’ digital transformation.”

DxEnterprise for Containers Features & Benefits:

–       Kubernetes SQL Server Container Availability Groups with automatic failover, an industry first – Enables customers to deploy stateful containers to create new and innovative applications

–       Near-zero recovery time objective (RTO) container database-level failover – Improves operations to more efficiently and resiliently deliver better products and services at a lower cost to the business

–       Distributed Kubernetes AG clusters across availability zones/regions, hybrid cloud and multi-cloud environment with built-in secure multi-subnet express micro-tunnel technology – Enables customers to rapidly adapt to changes in market conditions and consumer preferences

–       Intelligent Health & performance QoS monitoring, alerting management – Simplifies system management

–       Mix and match support for Windows and Linux; bare metal, virtual, cloud servers – Maximizes IT budget ROI

Organizations can now purchase DxEnterprise (DxE) for Containers directly from the DH2i website to get immediate full access to the software and support. Customers have the flexibility to select the support level and subscription duration to best meet the needs of their organization. Users can also subscribe to the Developer Edition of DxEnterprise (DxE) for Containers to dive into the technology for free for non-production use.

DH2i Company is the leading provider of multi-platform Software Defined Perimeter (SDP) and Smart Availability software for Windows and Linux. DH2i software products DxOdyssey and DxEnterprise enable customers to create an entire IT infrastructure that is “always-secure and always-on.”

Partnership Enhances Skill Development Through Providing For Undergraduate Degrees

Employers finding ways to encourage employees to boost skills and grow is not a new phenomenon. However, this will only grow further for a while as the employee supply chain restocks and reorients following the pandemic. This is an example.

In order to meet new skills demands and develop the workforce of the future for the automotive industry, InStridetoday announced the launch of a pilot program with leading automotive technology company Magna International to develop strategic education programs for qualified employees to access undergraduate degrees and other learning and development opportunities. The company’s initial education offerings will be available for US-based employees beginning this month.

“We are incredibly excited to work with a global mobility powerhouse such as Magna and are looking forward to serving their employees through our academic partnerships,” said Vivek Sharma, CEO of InStride. “The executive team at Magna have been thoughtful in their strategic design of this pilot education program to ensure that Magna employee-learners have the opportunity to access life-changing credentials and skills.”

With this education initiative, internally known as EPIC (Educational Pathways for Innovative Careers), Magna looks to build on its culture of creating continuous, scalable, lifelong learning opportunities for its employees. One way they expect to achieve this objective is by establishing pathways to learning and educational opportunities using InStride’s strategic enterprise education programs. Magna will draw on relevant education providers from InStride’s leading academic network to address skills needs within their organization and support the career objectives of qualified employees. 

“The mobility industry is transforming rapidly and in need of ever-changing skill sets to meet new demands. As vehicles change, the way we design and build them will be drastically different, requiring employees to expand their knowledge to maintain our company’s competitive advantage,” said Aaron McCarthy, Magna Chief Human Resources Officer.“With the help of this pilot program, we hope to continue moving the company forward for and with our employees as part of our learning culture.”

Seeq Expands Machine Learning Features for Process Engineering and Data Science Integration

Machine Learning (ML) is a flavor of Artificial Intelligence (AI). This news release from Seeq illuminates a bit of the mystery surrounding much discussion of the topic.

Seeq Corporation released R52 with new features to support the use of machine learning innovation in process manufacturing organizations. These features enable organizations to deploy their own or third-party machine learning algorithms into the advanced analytics applications used by front line process engineers and subject matter experts, thus scaling the efforts of a single data scientist to many front-line OT employees. 

New Seeq capabilities include Add-on Tools, Display Panes, and User-defined Functions, each of which extend Seeq’s predictive, diagnostic, and descriptive analytics. The result is faster development and deployment of easy-to-use algorithms and visualizations for process engineers. With R52, end users will also be able to schedule Seeq Data Lab notebooks to run in the background, fulfilling a top customer request.

Seeq customers include companies in the oil and gas, pharmaceutical, chemical, energy, mining, food and beverage, and other process industries. Investors in Seeq—which has raised over $100M to date—include Insight Ventures, Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures, Altira Group, Chevron Technology Ventures, Cisco Investments, and Next47, the venture group for Siemens.

As a compliment to the new extensibility features, Seeq data scientists are working with customers to develop and deploy machine learning algorithms tailored to the industrial process domain. Current areas of focus include automatically detecting performance changes in monitored assets, identifying causal relationships among process variables, and improved diagnostics by identifying and labeling patterns within a data set. For example, a super-major oil & gas company is using Seeq extensibility features to enable easy access by process engineers to a neural-network algorithm created by their data science team, helping reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“Analytics software for manufacturing organizations is an area overdue for innovation,” says Steve Sliwa, CEO and Co-Founder of Seeq. “Spreadsheets replaced pen and paper 30 years ago for analytics and haven’t changed much since. By leveraging big data, machine learning and computer science innovations, Seeq is enabling a new generation of software-led insights.”

Seeq first shipped easy to use machine learning-enabled features in 2017 in Seeq Workbench, and then in 2020 introduced Seeq Data Lab for Python scripting and access to any machine learning algorithm. This support for multiple audiences—with no code/low code features for process engineers and a scripting environment for data scientists engaged in feature engineering and data reduction efforts—democratized access to machine learning innovation.

Seeq’s approach to integrating machine learning features in its applications addresses many of the reasons data science initiative fail in manufacturing organizations.

  • Seeq connects to all underlying data sources—historian, contextual, manufacturing applications, or other data sources—for data cleansing and modeling.
  • Seeq supports the connected, two-way, interaction of plant data and process engineering expertise in OT departments with the data science and algorithm expertise in IT departments.
  • Seeq provides a complete solution for algorithm development, updating and improving algorithms over time, employee collaboration and knowledge capture, and publishing insights for faster decision making. 

In addition to Seeq Data Lab support for machine learning code and libraries, Seeq also enables access to the Seeq/Python library by third-party machine learning solutions including Microsoft Azure Machine Learning, Amazon SageMaker, and open source offerings such as Apache Anaconda. For example, a manufacturer using Amazon SageMaker is evaluating their machine learning insights with Seeq to create work orders in their SAP system.